An Interview with Rachel Budde of Fat and the Moon
It was an honor, one laden with sorrow and awe, to have been able to photograph the home of Rachel Budde, owner of Fat and the Moon herbal body care, prior to the fire, and especially after. It is an even bigger honor to be able to share this intimate experience of fire and the perspective Rachel has on it from this relative distance one year later.
How long ago did you lose your home? And can you say in your words what happened to it?
My home burned down January 22rd, 2017 while I was on a writing retreat in Hawaii. The cause of the fire is still mysterious- “electrical” which is terrifying in its vagueness. The fire started in the middle of the night and by 4 or 5am, was a complete inferno.
How long had you lived there?
I’d lived in my house for two years.
Home means something different for everyone. Can you describe what it was for you? What made it feel like home? Has the way you feel about home changed after the fire?
Home has been different things to me at different times, it was only when I lived alone for the first time that I realized how vital having my own space is to my equilibrium. Before that time- fitting into my external living circumstances, was like a circle block trying to fit into a square space. I never felt fully at home in the house I grew up in, nor in the houses of friends I lived with from the time I was 15 until I left for New York.
Once I had the experience of rooting into my apartment in Brooklyn, home became an extension of my being and a reflection of my inner world. Through cultivating my own home, I created a place I could belong.
Living alone in Brooklyn, Point Arena and Nevada City gave my inner world a space to thrive. Home was having my insides on the outside, a landscape of the personal.
After my home burned down, I had the impression that the fire ate me. It consumed my world. The feeling was devastating and liberating. It was an initiation.
There was a dimension to my home that was like a protective membrane, keeping me aloof and in control.
The fire obliterated my strategy to belong just within the bounds of a space I created.
Home now is more about the beauty and vulnerability of belonging within a family. I went from living alone, in a of fortress of my creation, to living with a family. They, rather than my things, reflect my life back to me. Home is alive, dynamic, it is a collaboration and a conversation.
Many people have things they know they'd want to grab in case of a fire. Had you had been able to grab anything, what would it have been and why?
That is the question I have been asked the most. The question I fantasized about after the fire- what would I have taken? The obvious would be my dog, Ophelia- who, luckily, was with friends during the fire, and my cat Honey, who was killed in the fire. What her experience must have been still haunts me.
Other than them, what I would have grabbed, in one way, given me a real sense of what matters to me. I would have wanted to take my grandmother’s diary, my notes from my research in Slovenia, a rare Slovenian plant book, artwork I had made in grad school and that was made by friends.
In another way, that fantasy has made me crazy. To choose the one thing, the ten things, or a car full of things would be so hard. I’m not sure if saving particular objects would feel like a victory or if they would emphasize everything else that got left behind.
What happened for in your life after the fire? Are there ways you felt supported by anything bigger, spirit, community? What if anything have you gleaned being directly affected by the incredibly destructive force of fire.
There was a way that the fire was very healing. I am a self reliant person; that quality has been my strength and my weakness. The foundation of my belief system was that I could only, really, ever depend on myself. After the fire, my rawness and need opened me to receiving care from others in a way I’ve never experienced before. I got to see the side of humanity that actually cares, that feels deep compassion, that wants to show up. I felt the fabric of my community.
When witnessing fires people often feel and express disillusionment with the part of us that collects and lets roots down in an effort to avoid the pain of loss. Can you talk a little about reinvesting, re-rooting, re-accumulating? We need some amount of stuff to live functioning lives and there's a balance to be had between being unattached and risking attachment knowing that things are impermanent. How do you work with this?
My home in Nevada City was the place I really got to stretch out. After living in my tiny house, without power or indoor plumbing, my Nevada City home felt like total luxury. I finally had space for all of my art, books and family heirlooms- I really got to relish living with the treasures I accumulated.
My home was more than just an assemblage of objects, everything had a story, and the combination of things was the story of my life. After the fire, in hopes of appealing to my resilience, many people offered that “it was just stuff” that I lost. On the one hand, that is true- and on the other, it is not. Our “stuff” becomes our stuff because we care about it. What we care about defines who we are. We know ourselves, in many ways, through our “stuff”.
The fire stripped me of my stuff, and that reflection of my identity. I no longer had the things that, in some ways, validated my existence. I felt profoundly naked and exposed, but lighter. As we get older, our desire for safety and comfort can make us rigid. I could feel the ways that was starting to happen to me after I lost everything. I got an opportunity to reconnect to an essential part of myself that just is. I realized I am the source of all of the outward expression of my life.
As a plant person, can you describe how you view the role of fire in an ecosystem and what that means for us human animals?
One of the ways we learn from plants is by peering outside of human logic. Human logic, in many ways is not logical- especially in the sense that we believe we are separate from nature. The truth is we are as much nature as a deep jungle jaguar or high mountain flower.
Our human story is that we want things to exist forever: relationships, homes, careers, youth, yet if we look around us- everything exists in a cycle. The teachings of plants have helped me see the truth of cycles, of dead above and living below. Though we fight it, we are a part of our ecosystem- which is always in flux. Fire is part of my ecosystem. That teaching has helped me be more flexible in the face of losing my home. I’m pregnant as I write this, due in less than a month. Fertility has always come with fire. Nature transmutes energy, and I’ve experienced that literally. I’ve learned nothing ever just goes way, it transforms. The nature of fire is that it expands, combusts, it releases matter from its forms. I realized I could let the fire do the same to me. I could choose to let it open me. We can all gather strength from consciously aligning ourselves with the cyclical part of Nature.
All photos by Kat Alves Photography in collaboration with Gold Dust Collective.